MBC 9 Investigates: A Drug Overdose, a Jail Restraint Chair, Detox, Duct Tape, Then Death
Family of Forrest Stockton pushing for changes after $630,000 settlement of a federal lawsuit against southwest Missouri police, ambulance, and jail staff.
NEOSHO, Mo. —
Two sheriff’s deputies stood over a man they had just brought into the Newton County jail’s detox cell 10 minutes earlier.
Forrest Stockton was breathing heavily, flailing his head back and forth, as the straps of a restraint chair cinched around his wrists, shoulders, stomach and ankles.
Their first try to put a protective rubber helmet on Stockton’s head failed.
He flung it off.
So, they came back with duct tape.
Jail surveillance video shows the two Newton County deputies put one strip of duct tape around the right side of Stockton’s helmet and head. They put another strip around the left side. One deputy secured a final strip toward the back of Stockton’s neck, as the other held the top of his helmet.
Newton County Sheriff’s Office
Pictured is Forrest Stockton in a restraint chair. A Newton County deputy holds duct tape while another deputy holds a protective rubber helmet on Stockton’s head.
One deputy later told police investigators the rubber helmet was to protect Stockton from hitting his head on the chair’s handles.
Neither deputy explained to investigators why they used the duct tape, according to police interview records reviewed by KMBC 9 Investigates.
What happened inside that jail detox cell, and in the hour before Forrest Stockton arrived, recently became the central focus of a federal lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed by Stockton’s family, was settled this summer for $630,000.
KMBC is not naming the deputies or any other defendants in the lawsuit, now that the case is settled. No one is facing criminal charges. The court, in approving the settlement, did not find anyone or any agency at fault for Stockton’s death.
However, Stockton’s friends and family maintain the 30-year-old father who struggled with drug addiction needed a hospital the night he died, not a trip to jail.
“There was still residue from the duct tape in his beard, when I finally got to see him,” Forrest Stockton’s mother Kris Stockton said.
A medical examiner said Stockton died of acute methamphetamine intoxication, ruling his death an accident.
Stockton’s family alleged, in the now-settled federal lawsuit, he experienced a condition called excited delirium. It is characterized as agitation, aggression, acute distress and sudden death, often in the pre-hospital care setting.
“Forrest was in a state of excited delirium,” Kris Stockton’s attorney John Picerno said. “The worst thing you can do to somebody is to restrain them. And that’s what happened.”
Newton County Chief Deputy Rick Geller told KMBC 9 Investigates that, Shortly after Stockton’s death, the Newton County Sheriff’s Office adopted a new policy declaring if someone comes into the jail on a 12-hour safekeep they must now be medically cleared by a physician.
Why deputies used duct tape and a restraint chair for Stockton, we still don’t know. Multiple questions emailed to the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, and other agencies named in the federal lawsuit from Stockton’s family, have gone unanswered.
Picerno and Stockton’s family are now hoping for statewide changes in how first responders handle drug overdoses. They want Missouri lawmakers to enact laws that keep people out of restraint chairs, if they are experiencing excited delirium. They also want Stockton’s story to show first responders the need for better training on how to treat someone they suspect is overdosing on drugs.
“He shouldn’t have been in detention at the beginning,” Picerno said. “He should have gone directly to the hospital.”
Inside the Newton County Jail Detox Cell
To be clear, stockton was moving around so much in the restraint chair, the duct-taped helmet stayed on his head for less than a minute after deputies shut the door of the jail detox cell, leaving him under the watch of a tower guard through surveillance cameras.
Newton County Sheriff’s Office jail surveillance video
Pictured is a screengrab of Forrest Stockton in a restraint chair moments before he flung a protective rubber helmet from his head secured by duct tape
Newton County Sheriff’s Office
The Newton County Sheriff’s Office’s restraint chair log for Forrest Stockton
Stockton continued to breathe heavily, alone in the cell, until his breaths slowed.
Jail surveillance video, obtained through an open records request by KMBC 9 Investigates, appears to show one of Stockton’s last breaths in the restraint chair, at 7:19 p.m. on June 29, 2018.
Jail cameras did not detect any motion in his cell for 18 minutes and 43 seconds after that, according to the surveillance video, until the same two deputies who duct taped the rubber helmet returned to the room around 7:38 p.m. after a call from the tower guard.
A deputy called dispatch.
“I need an ambulance over here immediately,” she told the dispatcher. “Immediately.”
Medics arrived shortly after.
It was too late.
Forrest Stockton was dead.
“Do you know how terrifying it is not to be able to breathe?” Kris Stockton said.
Stockton maintains, if her son would have received IV fluids and a hospital bed instead of a restraint chair that restricted his breathing, he could have survived.
A Jail Instead of A Hospital
Neosho police brought Stockton to jail after they responded to a home in the 500 block of Maple Street just after 6 p.m. A mutual friend of Stockton’s had called 911, telling dispatchers Stockton was in his backyard yelling, screaming and trying to get into the back door of his house.
Police body camera video shows Stockton shirtless and in shorts. He is seen talking to himself, screaming and flailing in the yard. At other times, he grunts and is hard to understand. His mother and his family’s attorney say he never seemed combative.
“Forrest, what did you take?” a Neosho police officer said as he first interacted with Stockton. “This isn’t normal, this isn’t how normal people act.”
In the side yard, the officer later suggested a plan to a fellow Neosho officer on how to handle Stockton.
“Left up to me, I don’t think this is an EMS issue,” he said. “I think he needs to be locked in detox for a couple hours.”
His colleague responded, saying he noticed Stockton “snotted out a big ol’ string of clotted blood.”
The Neosho officers eventually placed handcuffs on Stockton, as a Newton County Ambulance District EMT and paramedic showed up to check Stockton’s condition.
Both the ambulance workers and the Neosho police officers on scene were named in the federal lawsuit filed by Stockton’s family.
The paramedic looked inside Stockton’s mouth, not seeing any cuts.
A Neosho officer, then, took the medics to the side yard.
“He had a big ol’ string of stuff come right out of his nose,” he said.
The medics looked at the grass, then came back around to Stockton lying face down on the ground in handcuffs.
A few more minutes passed as Stockton flailed and grunted. The paramedic looked inside Stockton’s mouth again. He told police, “I don’t see anything.”
Neosho police body camera video
Pictured is a screengrab of Forrest Stockton in the backyard of a home at 504 Maple Street on June 29, 2018. A Newton County Ambulance District paramedic looks inside Stockton’s mouth, later telling police “I don’t see anything.”
A couple more minutes pass before a Neosho officer asked the paramedic a question.
“But you don’t have any concerns?” The officer said.
The paramedic responded.
“Other than whatever drugs he’s on, that’s all that’s wrong with him.” He said.
“Right,” said the officer. “OK.”
The federal lawsuit claimed no one in the backyard checked Stockton’s vital signs, blood pressure or pulse. Body camera footage, obtained by KMBC through public records requests, does not show anyone checking his vital signs.
Officers eventually got Stockton off the ground and escorted him away, according to body camera video.
“Where are we going man?” Stockton asked them, passing directly by the ambulance.
“Right over here to my car,” one officer said.
“We’ll give you a ride somewhere safe,” the other officer said.
Stockton then took a ride to jail in the back of the police SUV, grunting and screaming.
When he arrived, deputies strapped him to the restraint chair then wheeled him into detox, where he eventually stopped breathing.
“Define safe,” said Kris Stockton. “He obviously does not have the same definition I do.”
KMBC 9 Investigates sent multiple emails to the Newton County Ambulance District and Neosho Police Department with questions about what happened to Stockton on the night of June 29, 2018. They both complied with open records requests for information. However, Newton County Ambulance District officials did not respond to emailed questions about the events of that night.
Neosho police did not answer questions, either.
“At the advice of our attorney, we will not be answering questions or conducting interviews,” Neosho Police Chief Jason Baird said in an emailed statement KMBC 9 Investigates.
Stockton’s Friends and Family Remember Him
Months after the federal lawsuit against the agencies involved in Forrest’s death was settled, Kris Stockton came to Joplin to celebrate Forrest’s life. Friends organized a concert and reunion on his birthday, to remember him at the local bar he loved. They played some of his favorite songs.
“He means a lot to me,” Stockton’s friend Josh Mullen said, as he fought back tears after playing guitar to open the evening.
Mullen played in a band with Stockton called Cinna the Poet. Every time he saw Stockton, he saw love, happiness and joy.
“All the things you would value in a person he had those in abundance,” Mullen said.
After Stockton’s death, Mullen uncovered police body camera video, jail surveillance footage and police documents through open records requests. He wanted to help Stockton’s family know what happened.
Mullen says Stockton struggled with addiction, demons and troubles, but says Stockton’s death was incredibly inappropriate.
“Crushing, really,” Mullen said.
“It shouldn’t have happened,” The mother of Stockton’s son Jamie Hammond said.
Hammond says she knew Forrest as a loving friend and father.
“My son’s going to have to live the rest of his life without a dad,” Hammond said.
Friends and family are still struggling to put his death into perspective.
“You need to visualize a kind loving guy who went around helping everybody,” His grandmother Virginia Hayes said.
“It was a complete loss of life for no need,” Stockton’s aunt Karen Cope said.
Stockton, Cope, his grandmother, friends and family plan to share Forrest’s story with Missouri state legislators and other first responders in the coming months. They plan to push for restrictions on how jail staff use restraint chairs. They miss him and want to honor his memory. Most of all, they want what happened to Forrest to never happen to anyone else.
“This is 2021 in the middle of the United States of America,” Kris Stockton said. “That’s not the way people should be treated.”
KMBC 9 Investigates continues to pursue stories about death in custody in Missouri and Kansas. If you have a story to share about your friend or family member’s death in custody, email firstname.lastname@example.org.